Ethical Leadership - The experience of JCU's 3rd IBD cohort

Carter Ham, Four Star General - US Army

Someone once said to me that the real purpose of the US Armed Forces is to be "... a force for good." While that's overly simplistic, it has always resonated with me as I think about how we should act and how we would like to be perceived by others. At our core, we must be an ethically-based organization, for if we are not guided by an overarching sense to do what is right, then we are, as a military and as a Nation, on dangerous ground.

History is replete with examples of militaries which lose their ethical standing -- Hitler's Army, several South and Central American militaries which became instruments of repressive regimes, the same in Africa, and in many other countries across many generations.  So, we know what an unethical force looks like and how damaging they can become. For us in the US military, the challenge is how do we train, lead and prepare our formations for what is an inherently violent endeavor while instilling the principles of always acting justly. Unfortunately, we do have instances where Americans in uniform have acted unethically, in combat and otherwise. Today, we use those examples to help better convey to all who serve why their actions really do matter.

Each of us who serve in uniform accepts the principle of civilian control of the military. Our acceptance is affirmed in the oath each of us takes to "... support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." That means we owe our loyalty not to an individual, but to the ideals set forth in our Constitution. Our oath is unlike that of any other Nation. Many others swear allegiance to a King or to a military leader. Our commitment is to the Nation. That doesn't mean it's always easy dealing with civilian leadership. What we owe our civilian leaders is our best military advice on a given matter, even if that advice conflicts with an elected or appointed official's views. We also owe our civilian leaders our complete support for any decision they may make (of course, presuming the order is lawful). If I were to ever find myself in a situation where I could not, in good faith, execute a lawful order, then I would be obliged to resign my position.

We actually spend a fair amount of time and energy in developing our Soldiers and leaders to be ethical people. Among our core principles are "Duty, Selfless Service, Honor and Integrity." New soldiers are introduced to these ideals during basic training and this focus continues throughout one's career. In our education programs, we include instruction by Chaplains and lawyers to help our leaders better understand why ethical leadership matters. We use case studies (a war crime case, for example. Or, in a positive sense, study how Prisoners of War kept faith with one another and with their duty.) Today, as we train and prepare units for deployment to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and other locations, we purposefully interject into the training some difficult situations. For example, we might have a situation in which a child detonates a (simulated) explosive device in a crowded market, (simulating) killing or wounding many soldiers. We'll evaluate how effectively the unit responds while being mindful of how they treat civilians. In another situation, we might have a (simulated) local leader offer a bribe to a soldier to see how they might react to that.  In the increasingly complex environments into which we deploy our soldiers, we must continually find ways to replicate that complexity in training, to include the ethical dimension.